Why did the Bears trade Justin Fields? How throwing struggles, Caleb Williams’ rise led to Chicago exit

Gone with the wind.

Just two years ago, Justin Fields looked like the future of the quarterback position for the Bears. The Ohio State product showed flashes of excellence during his sophomore campaign, throwing for 17 touchdowns while producing one of the greatest rushing seasons by a passer in NFL history.

Fields finished ninth in MVP voting in 2022, seemingly cementing his spot as one of the league’s brightest young talents.

That may still very well be true. Nevertheless, if Fields is to hit those heights, he’ll have to do so in different strips. Chicago dealt its former savior to the Steelers on Saturday, acquiring more 2025 draft capital in the process, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Pittsburgh sent a conditional 2025 sixth-round pick that could become a fourth depending on Fields’ playing time.

MORE: Why did the Steelers trade Kenny Pickett to Philadelphia?

Here’s the skinny on why Chicago — once so convinced of Fields’ brilliance — opted to send him packing ahead of this year’s draft.

Why did the Bears trade Justin Fields?

The Bears’ decision to trade Fields boils down to a few factors. For starters, the organization seemed to have lost faith in the viability of Fields’ skillset going forward. The 25-year-old is a high-grade runner — one of the best in league history. However, accuracy remains a glaring concern. The 2023 season was Fields’ best when it came to completion percentage. He still found his target just 61.4 percent of the time, which ranked near the bottom of the league among quarterbacks. 

Fields is far from an infallible talent. His field vision is a concern among some scouts, who view him as a project despite being in the league for three seasons. Fields has 30 interceptions in 38 career starts.

Fields is not a finished product. Few QBs are at 25 years old, especially when they’ve had to endure two regime changes in three years.

Perhaps if Chicago was in a more dire position, it could afford to give Fields free rein to do what he wants in — and out — of the pocket.

The thing is, the Bears aren’t your typical rebuild. Despite owning the first overall pick, Chicago finished the year 7-10 — just two games short of a postseason berth. D.J. Moore, Montez Sweat, Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon make up a formidable supporting cast in the Windy City, one that could very well compete for a postseason place in due time.

Given his flaws, a trade for Fields could seem daunting for other franchises. However, there’s a paucity of hurling options in today’s NFL. Even fewer of those available offer the long-term prospects that Fields does.

Such an environment can make Fields an enticing option, especially for a team seeking a long-term fixture under center. The Steelers signed Russell Wilson to a one-year contract, but they can sign Fields and apply his fifth-year option. That would keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2025 season and give him a chance to prove he can be the franchise’s long-awaited answer at quarterback.

MORE: Diontae Johnson trade details

To that end, Fields’ potential shines through. His capabilities as an open-field threat are well-detailed; he tends to leave opposition defenders sputtering in his wake, prancing over, around and through them to accumulate yardage.

Fields is already among the most prolific runners to feature as a QB in league history, rushing for 1,143 yards in 2022, the second-most ever for a quarterback.

All of that is to say, Fields has some value, though perhaps less than initially suspected. To flip him for a conditional 2025 pick could represent good business for Matt Eberflus’ team, which clearly has some doubts over Fields’ long-term potential under center.

It’s intimidating to get rid of a young QB who has shown signs of liveliness. The Bears are in a better position than most, though. After all, Caleb Williams — the crown jewel of the 2024 NFL Draft class — is likely to step into Fields’ stead in the Windy City.

Williams has long been considered the cream of the crop in the college game. His style of play — centered around sumptuous throws and impressive improv — appears to be a seamless fit in the professional game. With Shane Waldron slated to implement a new, pass-heavy approach come 2024 — the same one that yielded a Pro Bowl return from Geno Smith — there’s optimism in Chicago’s brass that Williams can be the one to lift the Bears out of perpetual turpitude and into the modern era. One that centers around efficient and effective quarterback play.

With the greatest respect to Fields, he just hasn’t shown that level of consistency in the pocket. And with a fifth-year option looming — one that’s expected to value around a hefty $25.7 million — that wasn’t a risk Chicago was willing to take.

Bears draft picks 2024 after Justin Fields trade

Fields’ trade won’t impact Chicago’s 2024 picks since it was for a conditional fifth. 

Here’s how their 2024 draft board shakes out at present:

  • Round 1, Pick 1 (via Panthers)
  • Round 1, Pick 9
  • Round 3, Pick 75
  • Round 4, Pick 122 (via Eagles)

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